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After a sluggish start, Android tablet sales are expected to boom this year. Google isn't talking numbers, but mobile industry analyst Benedict Evans estimates the company has sold about 4.8 million Nexus 7 tablets since launching the device in the third quarter of last year.
And as tablet sales rise, apps are sure to follow.
What makes a great tablet app? Start with an interface optimized for larger screens, obviously, as well as new content and features that aren't really feasible on smartphone displays. (For more specifics on tablet-friendly app design, check out the detailed checklist at the Google Play Android Developers site.)
While smartphones and tablets are both classified as mobile devices, their capabilities differ. For instance, you can edit photos on a mobile phone, but a tablet's ergonomic advantages -- bigger screen, larger icons and other touch targets -- make the task a lot easier. Similarly, you can conduct a three-person conference call on a smartphone's tiny display, but the experience is much richer on a 10-inch tablet, where the callers' facial expressions are much easier to read.
For the Android slate market to grow, more tablet-optimized apps are needed for consumer and business users. It appears both developments are well underway.
Tech-Thoughts analyst Sameer Singh predicts that quarterly shipments of tablets will likely overtake those of PCs by the first quarter of 2014, and possibly sooner.
"This shift is likely to be driven by quicker adoption of high quality, cost-effective tablets in emerging markets and the resulting impact on PC replacement rates," writes Singh.
Research firm NPD DisplaySearch is equally optimistic. It estimates that worldwide tablet shipments will top 240 million units this year, easily surpassing expected shipments of 207 million laptop PCs.
Then again, laptop sales may receive a boost this year as manufacturers rework the traditional clamshell PC to add more tablet-like features, a trend that's already blurring boundaries between slate and notebook. As NPD DisplaySearch points out, many new laptops include instant on, all-day battery life, and sleeker form factors -- just like a tablet.
Tablet-optimized Android apps have been slow to arrive, but that's changing. In fact, the Google Play store now has a dedicated "Staff Picks" section for tablet apps.
In selecting our favorite Android tablet apps, we focused on programs that shine on larger mobile devices, including the aforementioned photo editing and video chat examples. Other categories include personal finance, video streaming and other, more esoteric, examples.
Click through the slideshow below to find 10 great apps for Android tablets -- and name your favorites in the discussions section.
The folks at Skype (now a part of Microsoft) recently launched an Android tablet version of their ubiquitous voice/video chat app. The tablet's larger display is well-suited to video chatting, particularly for conference calls with multiple participants. The beauty of Skype is its platform-agnostic design, as well as the bottom-line benefit that Skype-to- Skype video and voice calls are free over 3G and Wi-Fi. Indeed, the Skype app is a must-have for Android tablet owners. Skype users running Android 2.3 or newer can access both front- and rear-facing cameras -- assuming they have both -- but those stuck with (shudder) Android 2.2 or older can only access the tablet's rear camera.
If you're curious about the planet you live on, Google Earth is a wondrous thing. Optimized for a tablet, this free app lets you explore remote corners of the globe, including places you may never see in person. Better yet, it may provide some great travel ideas for your next sojourn. Google Earth is a breeze to navigate: Simply move the globe with a finger swipe, and use the ol' two-finger pinch to zoom in and out. The app includes 3-D imagery and flyovers of selected cities, as well as virtual tours of interesting places around the world. Kudos to Google for offering a free app that's fun and educational.
Sure, you can edit photos on a smartphone, but even "giant" 5-inch displays are far from optimal for the task. A full-sized slate is a much better tool for image editing, and Snapseed is a great choice for tablet-toting photo buffs. While iOS users have enjoyed Snapseed for some time, the app is relative new to Android. (Brief backstory: Google bought Snapseed developer Nik Software last year and brought its image editor to Android.)
Snapseed provides photo-manipulation essentials such as single-tap auto correct, cool filters for arty expression, and smooth integration with Google+ for easy photo-sharing. Of course, it's not the only photo editor for Android, so be sure to check out popular competitors PicsArt Photo Studio and PicSay Pro as well.
A behemoth slate makes an awkward camcorder or point-and-shoot. So what to do with your tablet's camera? Get CamScanner HD and use it as a document scanner. This free app makes it easy to digitize paper documents, save them as PDF files in more than 10 sizes and share them via email. Alternatively, you can upload the files to Dropbox, Box.net, or Google Docs. The ad-supported free version has its shortcomings, however, including PDF files created with watermark, and a limitation of 50 documents and 10 pages per document. If you like the app, spend $5 for the full version, which removes these limitations.
A high-definition tablet -- consider the Google Nexus 10 with its stunning 2560- by 1600-pixel display -- is a great platform for digital magazines with full-color pages and beautiful photography. Digital mags often include interactive features not possible in print too. Zinio is a free magazine app that provides access to thousands of global titles, most of which aren't free but still reasonably priced. (For instance, an annual subscription to Bloomberg Businessweek costs $16.) Zinio for Android tablets has some nice perks, including an Explore section with hundreds of free articles. An honorable mention goes to Google Currents, another free magazine app worth checking out.
TED is a nonprofit whose live conferences bring together some of the world's brightest minds, brainiacs who lecture on an eclectic mix of topics in such areas as technology, education, business, and music. Its free Android app delivers more than 1,400 (and counting) TEDTalk video and audio lectures, all of which are professionally produced and frequently fascinating, depending on your interests. The TED app is a great way to spend your idle time at lunch, in the dentist's waiting room, or even at the terminal between flights.
Personal finance apps -- particularly those packed with charts, graphs, and detailed lists of checking transactions and bank balances -- cry out for tablet-sized displays. TurboTax-maker Intuit offers a free Android tablet app that works with its Mint.com money management site, and it's a slick piece of work. Mint lets you to manage all of your personal finance accounts -- checking, credit cards, savings, investing and so on -- in one place. The tablet version has features you won't get with Mint's other mobile incarnations, including charts and graphs that visualize your spending habits, as well as the ability to store your financial data for offline viewing.
The Weather Channel has a brand new Android app that's optimized for tablets, and it's worth checking out. For starters, the redesigned interface is nimble and a breeze to navigate. Weather Channel forecasts are accurate to within 1.5 miles of your location, the company claims, and the app tells you the exact time that rain or snow will start in your area. Localized maps display a variety of helpful weather data, including severe weather bulletins, past and future radar, and tropical cyclone tracking (including hurricanes). The app is free, which means ads. But that's a small price to pay for this great weather guide.
Here are the best attributes of the mega-popular (170 million downloads and counting) Temple Run game: It's fun and fast-paced, incredibly easy to learn and has lots of creepy monkeys. The first version's graphics were nothing special, but that didn't matter if you were playing the game on a tiny smartphone display. Enter Temple Run 2, the latest version with detailed graphics that command your attention, even as you're zipping past treacherous cliffs and racing through mines and forests. In short, the game is better on a tablet. Even better, it's free.
Finding tablet-optimized apps can be a pain. The Google Play Store does have a special section for tablet apps, but a second opinion is always helpful. That's why you should install Tablified Market HD, a curated list of tablet apps that's updated regularly. Essentially a front end to Google Play, the free, ad-supported version includes product descriptions, screen shots and user comments. When you find an app you like and tap the "Install" button, and you're sent to Google Play to download it. Tablified Market lets you bookmark apps to install later too. It's well organized and easy to browse.
Thank you for viewing our Android Tablet Apps slideshow. If you'd like to learn about Apple deployment, join us at the Mac & iOS Conference at Interop Las Vegas, May 6 & 7. Other Interop tracks include cloud computing, mobility and more. Get more details and register here.